Orkut’s decade of not quite making it

Off Brand

This is it, dear readers! The last of the Off Brand blog posts! Wow, who knew we’d survive this long? (I’m sure you knew, you’re very clever.) Anyway! Today we’re talking about Orkut! And if you’re anything like me, your response to that will be, “What’s Orkut?” Oh, we are going to cover that and more. Strap in for a dramatic tale of the rise and fall of a social media platform! Okay, not really, it’s not that dramatic, but if you’re already strapped in that’s fine.

Orkut Büyükkökten

Source: MarTech

Venture back with me to the year 2004. Usher was breaking records on the Billboard Hot 100, the Summer Olympics were back in Greece, the EU was expanding, and Google launched its first social media platform, Orkut, named after the Google engineer who created it, Orkut Büyükkökten. Orkut was a result of Google’s 20% Rule, a policy that was implemented when Google went public the same year. “We encourage our employees, in addition to their regular projects, to spend 20% of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google,” explained founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page.

Orkut started as a gathering place for A-list tech heads and branched out from there. It was invite only, and attracted a lot of initial interest thanks to Google’s reputation. Orkut’s focus was on connecting people, and they promoted the use of communities within the program. You could rate your friends for different traits, and this became somewhat competitive in the larger communities. Orkut initially allowed everyone to view everyone else’s profiles, but eventually implemented more privacy features to give control of that to the users. The interface went through a number of changes over the years, but they focused on keeping things clean and simple. You could feature 9 top friends on your profile (originally 8), similar to MySpace.

Brazil and India

Source: San

Orkut saw its greatest success in Brazil, where the platform just took off, with India following in second place. At its peak, the platform had 30 million users. Brazil has emerged as a strong market for online retailers, and the communities on Orkut as well as the ability to recommend businesses and products appealed to Brazilian audiences.

Orkut also introduced themes. For example, on Diwali, in India, a “Happy Diwali” message would pop up and allow user to change their interface to a Diwali inspired theme. Themes were only available to Brazilian and Indian users – there was not enough of a market elsewhere.

More People More Problems

The downside of Orkut never taking off outside of certain markets was that Orkut never really stopped being a 20% Rule project. As a result, as Orkut began to run into the problems you would expect from a social media platform – fake accounts, hate groups, worms and viruses, issues with bandwidth and file sharing – there was not a large dedicated team taking care of these problems like you would find on Facebook or Twitter (and even then, let’s be honest, no one has found a good solution for the hate groups problem).

Orkut also found itself contending with bans. Iran, Saudia Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates all banned Orkut for issues of “national security,” and also for promoting promiscuity and making it easy for people to join communities focused on casual sex. Sorry, “ethical and moral issues.” Bahrain was under pressure to ban the platform as well. Proxies for Orkut were created so that users in these countries could still access the platform, but those proxies were difficult to access for anyone who wasn’t particularly tech savvy, and eventually those proxies all got taken down.

The Fall and the Future

In September of 2014, Orkut was retired. Google engineering director Paulo Golgher said in the announcement: “Over the past decade, Facebook, YouTube, Blogger and Google+ have taken off, with communities springing up in every corner of the world. Because the growth of these communities has outpaced Orkut’s growth, we’ve decided to bid Orkut farewell.” Now, we won’t talk about what happened to Google+ right now (Google just can’t seem to crack the social media code). The point is, despite the people who still loved it and used it, Orkut was no longer viable, and had to be put down.

What’s interesting is a recent turn of events. The Orkut website has been reactivated. Currently, all that sits there is a letter from Orkut Büyükkökten that says the following:

Hi there,

I’m Orkut. Seventeen years ago I started a little social network while I was an engineer at Google. In just a few years, that social network – orkut.com – grew to a community of over 300 million people.

I believe that orkut.com found a community because it brought so many diverse voices from around the world together in one place. We worked hard to make orkut.com a community where hate and disinformation were not tolerated. We worked hard to make orkut.com a community where you could go meet real people who shared your interests, not just people who liked and commented on your photos.

The world needs kindness now more than ever. There is so much hate online these days, and our options for finding and building real connections are few and far between. I’ve always believed that a friendship is more than a friend request, and I have dedicated my life to helping millions of you build authentic connections with your neighbors, family members, employees and the beautiful strangers who come into your lives.

Our online tools should serve us, not divide us. They should protect our data, not sell it. They should give us hope, not fear and anxiety. The best social network is the one that enriches your life but that doesn’t manipulate it. I want you to be able to be your true self, online and off. I want you to be able to make connections that stick. I want to help you do that with all my heart.

I’m an optimist. I believe in the power of connection to change the world. I believe that the world is a better place when we get to know each other a little bit more. It’s why I created the world’s first social network when I was a grad student at Stanford. It’s why I brought orkut.com to so many of you around the world. And it’s why I am building something new. See you soon!

Sign up below for updates, and be the first to know about it.

Stay beautiful,


There is field to sign up, and nothing else on the site at this time. That’s pretty recent activity, though, so who knows what future Orkut has? Maybe it will rise up from its grave. Maybe it will be something completely different. One way or another, it will be interesting to see if Orkut and his team have learned their lessons, and if Google will finally produce a social media site that can compete with Facebook and Twitter.

The initial appeal and the giant problem with Weixin

Off Brand

Hello, darling readers! I have so much to talk to you about! I just got back from Seattle, where the 20th anniversary of the Seattle Erotic Art Festival was a resounding success. I also caught COVID, and been sequestered in my bedroom with my husband since we got back. And we’re not going to address ANY of that today, because it’s time for another marketing write up adventure (although I have things to say about the festival, we’ll get to those soon).

This week’s topic is Weixin, the all-in-one social media app from tech giant, Tencent. My social circle is more familiar with Tencent due to their media efforts, and how many video games they’ve got money in these days. The case study in my text book is from 2014, when Weixin (WeChat for international users) was still a baby to the social media scene and leaving competitors floored by its rapid rise. Since those nascent years, Weixin has been in the news for how often it is used as a monitoring tool by the rather authoritarian Chinese government (and there goes my chances of ever having a book circulated in China). I can’t write the “wow, look at this amazing social media marketing technology” article that the syllabus wants, because we no longer exist in the mid 2010s and a lot has changed. So we’re going to discuss the platform, why it’s exciting from a business standpoint, and then talk about the problem.

One Stop Shop

Weixin launched in 2011, a simple messaging app that has grown into a mega platform, and by 2019 boasted more than 1.1 billion active users in China, Southeast Asia, Europe, and America. So, from a business and consumer standpoint, what is it about Weixin that makes it so appealing? It handles practically everything. No, really.

Look at your smart phone right now. How many apps do you have? I have over 100. I continue to get more and more annoyed every year as businesses come out with their own app for everything that you have to use if you want the special discount, or the reward points, or whatever reason you have been pressured into using their stupid app. Then there are the social media sites I visit frequently, the chat programs I use, and my rotating list of mobile games. With Weixin, all of that is in one app. It’s a chat program, a social media app, a market place, it’s everything. You can message a friend, share a video, hail a cab, start your own business, browse the web, whatever you want to do, all without having to launch another program.

Source: Masters of Media

Those store apps I was talking about a minute ago? The annoying ones? Weixin has an answer for them. Weixin uses “mini apps,” which are versions of those apps that only operate within Weixin. From a business standpoint, it’s brilliant. There is no reason to go elsewhere, and who wouldn’t enjoy that kind of convenience? And as someone owning and running such a platform, who wouldn’t enjoy such a captive audience?

Big Fish, Tiny Fishbowl

It makes sense why my textbook would point to Weixin as an example of a stunningly successful social media platform. The Economist, back in 2016, dubbed WeChat the “One app to rule them all,” citing how it filled all aspects of life in China. My problem is that all this success is credited entirely to the fact that Weixin/WeChat is such a versatile mega platform that was integrated into the daily routine of so many people. Now, I am not saying that isn’t a factor, but let us discuss the elephant in the chat room.

WeChat’s model fits political theorist Langdon Winner’s outline of an authoritarian technology: It is “system centered” and “immensely powerful,” a technology that leads society toward authoritarianism.

Peter W. Liu, Ph.D., and Justin M. Liu

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) keeps an incredibly tight rein on what information can be accessed, which apps can be used, and how they can be used. Think back to the late 2010s when the US tried (and failed) to get WeChat banned from the Apple Store after it became public just how much the CCP used the program for monitoring. Peter W. Liu, Ph.D., and Justin M. Liu offer a very succinct explanation in an article (which you should 100% go read as soon as we’re done here) published in Monmouth Magazine:

“WeChat’s model fits political theorist Langdon Winner’s outline of an authoritarian technology: It is “system centered” and “immensely powerful,” a technology that leads society toward authoritarianism. This is made evident by WeChat’s unprecedented rise and the ways that it censors information. As mentioned, WeChat is indispensable in today’s China. However, it has not become a backbone of Chinese lifestyle simply because of its usefulness; as long as it continues to align with the CCP’s values, it will receive plenty of help from the government. On top of granting subsidies to Tencent, Beijing has globally banned or heavily handicapped virtually all of WeChat’s foreign competitors, making it the only logical choice for practical use.”

It’s easy to outpace everyone when you’re the only game in town, and the government is backing you.

Convenience or Privacy

So I understand and acknowledge that most of the information about my life is easily accessible by anyone who understands how to navigate the internet. A few web searches and you’ll walk away with almost anyone’s last three addresses, marriage history, and anything else that’s considered public record (and also possibly surprised and unsettled by what is considered public record). That said, there are still many things in my life that are private. I understand social media well enough to regulate what those apps share about me, I use chat programs that don’t have backdoors so that my conversations remain private, and thanks to recent legislation every time an app tries to track my information Apple has to inform me and give me the opportunity to tell it “no.” Which I do.

As convenient as an app like Weixin could be, even if built in a country that had laws about censorship and privacy, I feel like I would be reluctant to trust it. Perhaps because of what I know about Weixin/WeChat, perhaps because I just wouldn’t be comfortable with any one entity controlling that many facets of my life (I’m already a little uncomfortable with how much power I give to Google). As social media platforms continue to scramble for the top tier, however, we may see more companies looking to Weixin as an example.

Memes, Cyberactivism, and Breast Cancer

Off Brand

Hello darling readers! We are back with another marketing class assignment! This particular assignment is addressing something that is near and dear to my heart. Both metaphorically and quite literally. I’m going to need to ask you all to dive into your mind’s Wayback Machine and pull up some viral memes from the early aughts.

Drea, Black

Okay, who remembers when you would get spammed on Facebook at the beginning of every October with the latest, “Hey ladies, put this obscure message as your status update! It will confuse people and somehow promote Breast Cancer Awareness! Don’t tell the males!” or something to that tune?

So, ignoring that referring to people as males and females is repugnant, let’s focus on the memes. It started with name and bra color, i.e. “Drea, Black.” Then it was phrases like, “I like it on the chair,” or “I like it next to the bed,” where the “it” was where you left your bra. After that it was a number, followed by the word “inches,” and how long it takes to do your hair. Because sex sells, the heightened sexualization of the meme resulted in increased circulation, including but not limited to national news coverage.

I absolutely remember when these messages were circulating. The meme aroused interest, certainly, and hundreds of thousands of women jumped on board. I understand why – it was fun, it was playful, and it was interactive! Each person could customize the message to reflect themselves while still participating in the larger movement. As an extra bonus, you got to be in on the joke! People love being in the inner circle, even if that inner circle is enormous. Finally, it let people feel like they were doing something, helping a cause, for very little effort.

But was the meme effective? Short answer, no. Let’s look at the longer answer.

Breast Cancer Awareness

Source: Get The Gloss

Raising awareness for breast cancer is like raising awareness for the ocean – if you are ignorant of the subject in today’s day and age then it is because you have either been hiding in a hole in the earth, or you have intentionally avoided any sort of internet activity, news media, grocery stores, I could go on. There are a lot of problems with the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and how they’ve made breast cancer an industry, but they have certainly gotten the word out. Pink products regularly flood every business imaginable during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Businesses change their logo colors. Arenas turn their display lights pink. The awareness is there.

Awareness is not needed as much as education and action. People across the world patting themselves on the back for raising awareness for a cause that is already widely known doesn’t do much to actually help said cause.

Save Women (and Men), Not Boobs

Another problem with the viral memes is the continued sexualization of breast cancer. So, yes, as I said earlier, sex sells. A lot of survivors are quick to point out, however, that breast cancer isn’t sexy. Not only that, but focusing on messages like “Save the Ta-Tas” and “Save Second Base” is incredibly objectifying. And survivors have been making this argument for a while.

Source: SCAR Project, Copyright 2011 © David Jay Photography

Some efforts have been made to bring the public image of breast cancer back to its reality. The Scar Project, which has been described by Forbes as “a shockingly raw, yet strikingly beautiful, photo series that shows a side of breast cancer we’re not used to seeing,” documents survivors boldly topless, many with nothing but a long scar where a breast once was. The survivors are smiling, stone face, and crying; some stand next to a family member, some are held by a partner, one even depicts two generations of cancer survivors, but most are in the image alone.

While I understand that breasts are sexy to a lot of people, myself included, the problem with using sexualized marketing strategies for breast cancer is that it is ignoring that a person is battling death and facing disfigurement for a chance to survive. People diagnosed with breast cancer are more than just their breasts. Furthermore, did you know men get breast cancer? Because men have breast tissue. All humans have some amount of breast tissue, no one is completely risk free here, though women absolutely bear the largest risk.

Correlation ≠ Causation

Now, I know what you might be thinking. Yes, objectifying breasts is a bad thing, but could this be a case of the ends justifying the means? Those memes got national news coverage—surely they did some good even if they made people uncomfortable? Well, the aforementioned Susan G. Komen did report an increase in donations during the time those memes were circulating. But those memes were circulating at the beginning of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

In both my journalism classes, as well as my statistics class (ah, the good old undergrad days), a point that was brought up in the first week and covered repeatedly throughout those courses was that correlation does not equal causation. I know this is a hard one for a lot of people, particularly you political types. The ONLY way to prove causation, is through experimentation. What this means for our current conversation is that there’s no proof the memes did anything other than make a lot of people feel warm and fuzzy and convinced that they were doing something useful.

This in a nutshell is the problem with cyberactivism. It’s really easy to post something on social media and feel like you did good. However, if your post doesn’t contain something that educates, or links to a place where people can make donations, or actually furthers the cause in some way, then you didn’t really do anything. The memes didn’t go viral for their message, they went viral because it was mysterious and everyone leapt on that bandwagon.

What actually helps?

Cowgirls Against Cancer. Source: Colorado Springs Gazette

As a society we are still working on how to employ social media for the greater good. Humanitarian Academy for Development has a great, quick article on the good and the bad of cyberactivism. The tl;dr is that it gives people the sense of doing good for very little effort and sometimes no results, but at the same time it can also spread a message far and mobilize people that might otherwise have remained disparate. So how can cyberactivism help?

  • Educate. A cute message isn’t enough, provide information.
  • Connect. Include links to educational sites, foundations, message boards, etc. For example, here’s Breast Cancer Action’s site, check them out.
  • Donate. Want to help but don’t want to spend a lot of time doing it? Send money. Directly to the org, don’t just buy something pink/green/puzzle pattern/pick your cause’s merch color.
  • Get involved. Use your new online connections to find the people who are getting things done, and go join them.